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Winds of Change

February 11, 2016
Long Island Business News

By: 

David Winzelberg

As Long Island continues to embrace solar power as its leading form of renewable energy, towns in Suffolk County are being pitched to adopt a uniform application and code for harnessing wind.

In a region where energy costs are the highest in the country, the addition of wind power at the Island’s sprawling corporate campuses and industrial parks could help offset those costs for area employers.

So far, the wind turbine code developed by the county planning commission has been adopted by the Town of Brookhaven and is being considered by East Hampton and Riverhead. A committee of Long Island business leaders and renewable energy proponents will next bring the planning commission’s code to Huntington, Babylon, Islip and Smithtown in the hopes of eventually having all towns in Suffolk get on board with uniform rules and application processes for wind power installations. In 2009, Islip became the first municipality on Long Island to amend its zoning code to allow the installation of accessory wind energy turbines on residential and industrial properties.

The momentum for wind power follows the county’s successful campaign for uniform solar energy installation rules. All 10 towns in Suffolk have already adopted the county planning commission’s uniform code for solar power. In 2013, the commission earned an achievement award for policy innovations from the National Association of Counties for its solar rules streamlining.

Proponents of the uniform code for wind turbines say wind alone or solar alone won’t solve our dependence on fossil fuels.

“It has to be a synergistic renewable energy effort,” said David Pennetta, managing broker for Cushman & Wakefield Long Island and a member of the Suffolk County Wind Power Committee. “We’re going to go in and try to get the towns to buy in.”

Pennetta said the biggest obstacle for gaining acceptance for onshore wind turbines has been misinformation. Opponents have claimed the turbines are unsightly, noisy and pose hazards to birds, all of which Pennetta says is untrue.

“There’s really nothing negative about them,” he said. “It’s a symbol of clean air, sustainability and freedom from dependence on foreign oil.”

Most of the push for wind power was previously aimed at the East End, where there’s more room for the setbacks – 100 percent of turbine heights as high as 160 feet – that are required by the county code. But David Calone, the former Suffolk planning commissioner who helped author the wind turbine regulations, said there is a lot of potential for the technology throughout the county.

“Offshore wind installations will ultimately have a bigger impact, but it’s appropriate on larger commercial properties,” Calone said. “It’s a way for companies to reduce the cost of doing business in the long run.”

In 2012, Canon USA proposed erecting 11 wind turbines on its parking garage at its sprawling 52-acre headquarters in Melville. As a result, the Town of Huntington enacted a moratorium on wind turbines in 2013. And though Canon has mothballed the idea, the town has yet to adopt a code for wind power installations.

The county’s uniform wind power rules allow one ground-mounted turbine of up to 80 feet tall on properties of at least 40,000 square feet; one turbine of up to 120 feet high on properties of at least 84,000 square feet; and one turbine of up to 160 feet high on properties of at least 200,000 square feet. Multiple turbines have to be placed at least 300 feet apart.

Especially attractive for companies to reduce their carbon footprints and lower their energy costs, the wind power effort has garnered support from a variety of area business and development organizations, such as the Association for a Better Long Island, the Long Island Builders Institute and the Long Island Regional Planning Council.

Sammy Chu, chairman of the Long Island chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said his group would like to see the county wind code universally adopted.

“Towns could alter it as they see fit,” Chu told LIBN. “For private-sector applications in particular, it makes no sense in 2016 for outdated public codes to be limiting private investment in green technology.”

Wind power isn’t cheap. The cost of a 10 kilowatt wind turbine – enough to fully power a large home – runs between $50,000 and $80,000 before any utility and government rebates, according to Windustry.com. A gargantuan 2 megawatt turbine used offshore and onshore by power companies in other parts of the country could eclipse $3 million per installation.

Pennetta said companies that install wind turbines will not only achieve cost savings, but will also help retain and attract employees.

“It’s another step in reducing their carbon footprint and provides a competitive advantage over other regions,” he said.

Joe Doolan, the head of environmental affairs for TD Bank, confirms that’s a big consideration for area employers.

“According to an annual internal employee survey at TD, our employees believe making a positive impact on the environment is a top priority,” Doolan said in an emailed statement. “Our employees love to volunteer for environmental nonprofits in their community, allowing their neighbors to see the direct local impact TD is making. We believe a focus on the environment not only helps to make the community a more beautiful and healthier place, but also provides sustainable business opportunities for the future.”

Meanwhile, renewable energy advocates say the area’s corporate and industrial real estate may be ideal spots to catch the wind, and the county’s uniform code could help them set sail.

“There has to be enough wind to make it economically viable and enough of a buffer between neighboring properties,” Calone said. “But it’s a great jumping off point.”

U.S. Green Building Council - Long Island Chapter
69 Chichester Road
Huntington, NY 11743
info [at] usgbc-li [dot] org